Famous Home Movie Makers – Ray Harryhausen

In the first part of our series on famous movie makers who began by shooting in the family basement or garage, we looked at Nick Park, who started creating his phenomenal animations simply as home movies.

Now it’s time to look at another filmmaking giant who started out in the same way, and this time it’s the turn of special effects guru and all around legend Ray Harryhausen, who had a crucial part in making classics such as Jason and the Argonauts and The Clash of the Titans.

Although Harryhausen would weigh in on the script, the plot and many other aspects of the filmmaking process, his real legacy comes from the incredible special effects and animations that he was responsible for. Like so many other filmmakers, he learnt these skills by experimenting with simple materials and home movies in his early years.

Before being tempted into the world of filmmaking, the young Harryhausen was already working on making 3D figures for school projects, describing himself as ‘a diorama kid at school, always making these little prehistoric scenes.’ After finding inspiration in the 1933 King Kong movie at the age of 13, these dioramas took on a new and exciting quality – he begun to learn how to make them move.

His first idea was to turn to marionettes, making puppets of his favourite creature – the dinosaur -and shooting short home movies in which they started to come to life. His family nurtured this passion for both movie-making and all things fantasy, not only by offering encouragement and taking him to the cinema, but also by supporting his home cinema efforts in any way they could. But Harryhausen still wasn’t quite happy with the results: although his marionettes were a great start, they couldn’t capture the magic that he’d seen on the big screen – and that was what he really wanted.

The next step was to study animation, making small articulated figures of a stegosaurus and a cave bear, and borrowing a 16mm Victor camera to start his home movie career in earnest. The set was his parents’ garden and, later, when he decided that the sun was ruining his shots, the garage – and they were more than happy to move their car onto the driveway to accommodate his love. At this point he also met Ray Bradbury, a fellow fantasy fanatic, and the pair encouraged each other to pursue creating art in their chosen fields: cinema for Harryhausen, literature for Bradbury.

Now Harryhausen was ready to start making ever more ambitious home-movies, working on an extravagant early project called Evolution of the World, which allowed him to create scenes that showed the dinosaurs in all their glory for the first time. From here, he begun to refine his craft, learning how to put personality into the models he was making and eventually landing his first job as a professional animator. The student had become the master – and his early trials with home movie making would evolve into the great cinematic masterpieces that we all know and love today.

If you’ve been carrying out your own experiments with home movies, or if you have boxes of old film waiting in the attic, we can help get them out into the light by converting them from Cine to DVD. Show them off to your friends, or even a wider audience, and help us keep the magic of home cinema alive! To find out more why not contact us online, or at 0800 592433?